I've been thinking about Claude Monet a lot. Which is to say, I've been thinking about him more than usual. He's a fascinating fellow and I suppose I always took his style for granted because I was very familiar with it growing up, so I didn't go through a definitive "learning about Monet" period, his art was always just there. But in the last few years when I've delved into these well-known artists to go in-depth on their history and the unique stories behind the artwork, I am frequently amazed. The more I learn about Monet, the more I love his work, especially the water lilies. I feel like the commercial art world is a bit bored with them, considers them unoriginal and overused and appearing on too many cell phone cases. But I never tire of them, much as Monet never tired of painting them. And amid all of my Monet research, I was inspired to give water lilies a go myself. If people think these lilies are so simple and hackneyed and nothing new can come of an old art topic, yada yada yada, I want to see how I truly feel about painting the subject. And thus, the great Water Lily Experiment began.
I posted about Monet on my Instagram today, and it goes more in depth on why Monet was a badass, if you're curious.
(And that's just scratching the surface!)
Monet painted 250 water lily pieces (not counting the dozen or so he destroyed) in oils. My water lilies will be created in acrylic and pastel. I use custom media mix-in recipes I have developed to create an impasto effect with acrylic paints.
I wanted the background water to be rich blue and green with its own dynamic effect. I created an emerald wash on canvas and layered phthalo blue over that, using my hands and mists of water to create a stamped/drippy effect. This took a few days of work until it felt right. I left some darker tones near the corners to give the piece a sense of weight and movement.
Monet's water lilies were revolutionary at the time and helped pioneer large-scale allover abstraction, because they were not a scene clearly contained within a frame, unlike his previous work. They were expansive and the edges of the image felt cut off. People didn't quite know what to make of this! I wanted to keep my large, glossy lilies centralized in my painting, but still create the feeling of drift and that there is more to the image outside of the canvas, like Monet did. I used the darker tones along the perimeter to create this sense of continuation.
The background is flat and the lilies seem to leap off of it, due to their texture and glossy color. I carved into them with my myriad of [accidental] tools, like the butt-ends of paintbrushes, a stray pair of tweezers (if my husband reads this--I'm sorry and I'll clean them up soon), etc. Once I had those lily lines engraved in the paint and it had dried, I could go over them with new colors and sometimes let it sink into the valleys these gouges had created, adding to the sense of depth. I worked these layers over at least half a dozen times in acrylic, and then revisited them with soft oil pastels.
I used liquid acrylic for the white lilies that look like ghost flowers. I wanted the color of the lily pads to be the star of the show, but didn't want to leave out the flowers entirely. I love this effect, and I feel the rich greens and reds pop even more with the stark white botanical outlines!
This painting was truly a joy to bring together and has bubbled up all sorts of water lily inspiration in me. Now I understand why Monet got hooked on painting these plants for 30 years of his life! Part 1 of this Water Lily Experiment has me thinking the critics and naysayers are wrong--this subject is not exhausted. No subject should ever be exhausted--they just need a new artist or perspective or medium to fire them back up.
The best part about painting water lilies is that it has become a time dedicated to reflecting on what an absolute badass Monet was. This one's for you, Claude.